Teachers and other staff in Yosemite Unified School District (YUSD) are unhappy with administrators, and after months of salary negotiations, some have hinted at a strike to draw attention to their concerns.
Teachers and classified workers, such as janitors and bus drivers, are not happy they’ve been offered a 1% pay raise - an amount Gina Hansen-Sedor, President of the Yosemite Unified Teachers Association (YUTA), called a “slap in the face.” She said in comparison, interim superintendent Leonard Kahn’s pay has increased from $111,000 to $150,000, or 35%, within the last five months.
“They wanted to give Kahn this raise, and they’ve offered us 1% while saying the district has no money,” said Hansen-Sedor. “It’s very demoralizing to the staff, and it’s embarrassing ... if you’re preaching there’s no water in the well, then you find water in the well for one person, how do you go about telling people there’s no water in the well?”
Additionally, since taking over as interim superintendent, Hansen-Sedor said Kahn and the district’s negotiators have continued to ignore staff’s pleas to reach a deal on a salary contract, as they’ve gone without one an entire school year.
Starting salaries for YUSD teachers remained stagnant from the 2007-08 school year until 2010-11, when they decreased from $42,084 to $41,394 due to furlough days as part of an ongoing national recession. After that, salaries didn’t see an increase above the 2007-08 level until the 2015-16 school year, when they went up to $42,873 in a 3% increase.
YUTA and the California School Employees Association, which represents classified staff such as janitorial services and bus drivers, have counter-offered with a 4% raise this year, followed by a 5% raise next year.
District is saving money, Kahn says
In response to the concerns, Kahn said his position and pay increase wasn’t a raise, so much as a consolidation of him taking on multiple jobs to help save the district money.
Kahn previously acted as the district’s assistant superintendent, before previous Superintendent James Sargent resigned in September to take a position with the Madera County Office of Education.
Kahn’s initial pay was $111,000 and raised to $122,000 when he assumed some of the duties of Randy Haggard, the Director of Categorical and Alternative Education in August after Haggard also resigned. Kahn’s pay then increased to $150,000 at a board meeting in November, when he took over as interim superintendent.
Kahn said the district restructured the position to save money while paying him less than Sargent both in salary - Sargent was paid $159,000 a year when he resigned - and benefits.
“Myself and the board worked to construct a compensation package that saves money for the district,” Kahn said. “And then assuming the role of two positions for the price of one, basically, is absolutely a cost saver.”
Kahn added that right now, the district is in a difficult financial state due to declining enrollment over previous years.
“I understand there’s a lot of emotion around salary negotiations,” Kahn said, “but in terms of 1% being unfair, the district is in the process of handling a significant revenue issue while being focused on doing what’s right for students in terms of investing in them through textbooks, curriculum and technology. We’re also focused on doing what’s right for staff by keeping their salaries at or near the top of our competitors.”
In an internal salary study presented at the board’s Dec. 12 meeting, YUSD teachers are paid higher wages than Chawanakee Unified School District and Bass Lake Joint Union Elementary School District, but fall behind Sierra Unified and Mariposa Unified. Kahn later corrected those figures, noting YUSD pays its staff more than Sierra Unified after, he said, adjusting for Sierra’s longer work year.
When Kahn’s pay was increased, Hansen-Sedor said teachers walked out of the room after the board - with Christine Wilder as the lone ‘no’ vote - approved Kahn’s pay increase against the wishes of teachers and classified personnel.
A strike has also been mentioned by some teachers, Hansen-Sedor said, but for now, that is not YUTA’s goal.
“There are teachers that want to strike, but that’s not the process,” Hansen-Sedor said. “Striking should be your last option, and I hope we in YUSD never ever have to get to that ... striking affects children, and we don’t want to hurt students, especially ones in elementary school. They shouldn’t be involved in this.”
Some signs recently put up near school sites have alluded to a teacher’s strike in YUSD, but Hansen-Sedor said neither YUTA nor CSEA are behind them. She said she doesn’t know who put them up.
The search is still underway for a permanent superintendent, with the hopes to begin advertising for the position by Jan. 1. That job is being performed by the consulting firm Dave Long & Associates of Laguna Beach.